Kitchen Ceiling Lighting For Both General and Work Areas

Illuminating More than Just the Room

Three men hanging out together in the kitchen
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Kitchen ceiling lighting is a tricky business. With most rooms in your house, you are trying to light up the room in general. Then, when you need to light up specific areas of these rooms--such as reading places, sewing machines, tool shop areas, eating spots, and so on--it is easy enough to add a floor lamp or a table lamp.

Inside the kitchen, it's a different matter. Floor lamps do not belong in the kitchen; and in only very rare instances may you find a table lamp. So, lighting in the kitchen area needs to perform two functions at the same time:

  • General Lighting:  Ceiling lighting powerful enough to encompass the entire kitchen area; and
  • Work Lighting:  Lights that illuminate small, specific zones, such as places where food preparation or cooking will be done.

The stovetop hood light takes on a lot of work because it often serves to illuminate both the stove and portions of the countertop area. But this should not be so. Countertop areas deserve their own lighting, not spill-over light from other areas.

How can you provide specialized work lighting in a room that does not lend itself to moveable lights such as floor lamps?  Answer:  Bring it down from the ceiling.

1. Recessed Lighting

The classic solution to the kitchen lighting problem is recessed lighting. These are sometimes called can lights. With popular diameters of 4", 5", and 6", recessed lights provide more than enough illumination to certain required areas of the countertop or kitchen island. Either halogen or incandescent bulbs can be used.

But one problem with recessed lighting is that of shadows. Because the lighting is at ceiling height, and because of obstructions such as kitchen cabinetry, shadows are easily cast upon the work area. Not only that, but recessed lighting is a notorious energy waster. Recessed lights waste power in two major ways: they use large, high wattage bulbs which suck up plenty of power, and they let room heat escape into the attic.

Finally, recessed lighting is permanent. You need to think long and hard about where you think you will need the lighting because once the lighting is installed it is extremely difficult to move. And the problem with this is that most cooks do not really know where they will need the lighting until they have used the kitchen for a while.

2. Track Lighting

Track lighting provides good lighting for the kitchen and has risen in popularity in the last several decades. Track lighting has many of the same good qualities of recessed lighting, with few of recessed lighting's flaws.

Track lighting is installed on the bottom of the ceiling, and individual light fixtures along the track can be moved easily wherever needed. Also, these individual fixtures can be added or removed if you need more or less light. Because no holes are cut into the ceiling, air leakage is not a problem. However, track lights do consume a lot of energy. Track lights have much of the same shadowing problem as to recessed lights. Yet because track lights can be moved, it is possible to move a light either forward or backward to avoid the shadow problem.

3. Flush-Mount Ceiling Fixtures

Flush mount ceiling fixtures probably have the least utility in the kitchen. A flush mount ceiling fixture is simply one or two bulbs covered by a translucent cover, usually in the center of the room.

Flush mount ceiling fixtures are great when you first enter a room. You flip the switch and suddenly you can see where you're walking. But beyond that, they don't do much to illuminate counter space. They are mounted high on the ceiling, yet do not have the same wattage as recessed lights.

4. Hanging Pendant Light Fixtures

One answer to the quandary of kitchen ceiling lighting is to install hanging pendant light fixtures. Hanging pendants bring the lights down to just above head level and are often vertically adjustable. Hanging pendants can be fixed in place or can be inserted into track lighting tracks.

One bit of advice regarding kitchen pendant lights: go sparingly on them. Recessed lights can be multiplied almost endlessly because they are mounted flush with the ceiling and are not very noticeable. But because pendant lights are hanging down, adding more than three or four begins to make the kitchen look cluttered.

But if your pendant lights are spaced out intelligently, they will adequately illuminate your work surfaces. Add in a flush mount ceiling fixture or a couple of recessed lights in the center of the room, and now you have covered both workspaces and the general kitchen area.

Want suggestions? Check out our kitchen pendant light picture gallery.

Kitchen ceiling lighting doesn't have to mean banks of boring fluorescent lights. Nowadays, anything can go! The Craftsman Lantern Style Kitchen Pendant from Signature Hardware provides adequate light to small spaces and has a great, antique look. If your kitchen island needs light, the Lakewood Windsor Bronze Kitchen Island Light Maxim stretches a full 45 inches long and uses three bulbs within three separate lamp fixtures.